Monday, July 11, 2016

Creating a Smart Home - Starting with the Amazon Echo

A little more than a year ago, my smart home began.  It sounds odd to say it that way - especially because I had no idea that I was actually beginning something.  I was buying a neato, techy thing and that was it.  I had no idea that it would grow into the beginnings of a "Smart Home."  Now the question is how far will it go.  I really don't have an answer for that.

But let's rewind a bit. A couple of years ago, Amazon announced the Echo.  I was intrigued.  It looked fun - not useful but fun.  I liked the idea of a personal assistant you can talk to.  I liked the idea of it telling jokes or the news or weather.  I liked the possibility of it expanding to other things.  I really like that it was half off for Amazon Prime customers.  However, I still thought that $99 was a bit steep for a toy so I held off.  I held off for a few months.  Then other people started getting theirs and the reviews started coming in.  Most were positive.  It was cool, it was fun.  I don't even remember what specifically pushed me over the edge, but I succumbed and placed an order in January 2015.

Then I waited.  And waited. And waited and waited and waited and...  It took a long time but I finally got mine at the end of May 2015.  Whew!  In this day and age of instant gratification, 4 months is a LOT of waiting.  So it finally came and it was a toy.  The weather reports were useful and the traffic reports were fine but, to me, it wasn't much more than a novelty device.  The kids, on the other hand, were entranced.

"Alexa, what time is it?", "Alexa, tell me a joke.", "Alexa, what's 1+1+1+1?"

It actually got so bad that we had to make a rule that you had to ask permission to talk to the Echo.  That calmed things down for a while.  However, the kids still get quite a kick asking it questions and having it tell jokes.  They also use it to set timers because their parents only give them limited time to play video games.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Echo for me was the ability for it to play music.  "Alexa, play Jeff's Music" brings up the Jeff's Music playlist on Amazon Music.  So much easier than playing a CD, plugging in an MP3 player, or fiddling with an app.  The voice control is so effortless, it's truly amazing.  If only I could have that through my whole house...

So, here's the problem, the voice control is amazing but the speaker on the Echo is only pretty good (this is my personal opinion).  Further, I have already invested in Sonos speakers and have them spread throughout the house.  Sonos speakers sound amazing and having your music all through the house is, for me, a truly wonderful experience.  So when I saw how well voice control worked with the Echo, my first thought was - "I want to control my Sonos speakers with this!!"  Sadly, this functionality still has not come to the Echo.  I continue to wait.

So that's how it started.  The Echo now sits quietly in the kitchen, sometimes ignored and sometimes quite popular but never, in my opinion, living up to it's full potential.  That is, until I started installing automated light switches but that's a post for another time.

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